To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Under the coinage “bibliographics,” this chapter follows the planar space of represented word shapes from the Renaissance painting of open bibles through Conceptual art objects printed in time-sensitive disappearing ink. The displacement from page etching to the ambient space of reading, a feature of representational painting in its figurative mental landscapes, also makes its appearance in contemporary installation work in which page shapes are reflected by reading lamps onto the walls of a self-performed “reading room.” The long arc of the chapter runs from saintly reading of the bible “in an extensive landscape” (where the divinely sanctioned world extends and refigures the divine Word) through an “augmented reality” e-text operated from digitally encrypted markers “read” by webcam from the pages of a typical bound volume.
Between the last chapter and this, silence changes its sign. Compared to the ludicrous reading in of significance to the visual filler of screen text is the normal reading out of sound from visual signs. Clarified by audio theorist Michel Chion are the different time frames of cinematic montage and alphabetic signage on screen. Pursuing the theme of temporality and writing, a literary-critical debate between Michael Riffaterre and Paul de Man over a poem by Victor Hugo turns on the poem’s lack of book or page for its text/medium interface – with indirect consequences for its phonetic substrate as well. From there, discussion moves to a famous auditory passage in Virginia Woolf and to a debate in media and film theory that returns to Chion in explicating the difference between the filmic photogram and a linguistic “phonogram,” the latter on exhibit in such novelists as Tom McCarthy and Don DeLillo.
Rounding out the previous chapter’s treatment of Victorian narrative with the early modernist prose of Henry James, analysis returns to the ontology of language in Agamben, leading on to a more philologically oriented history of prose – pivoted on the Enlightenment rise of the “plain style” – in research by John Guillory. Such is a mode of discourse whose potential stranglehold on future developments in literary writing is contrasted with a recovered premium on the densities of rhythm and sonority. Literary examples extend from Whitman’s insurgent lexical poetics, through D. H. Lawrence’s grammatically impacted style, to the stripped-down phrasal ironies of Kazuo Ishiguro – before returning to Friedrich Kittler on the ideologies of speech as medium in the post-Enlightenment century. Discussion closes with an adapted Heideggerian model for the present-at-handness of language itself in medial disclosure – rather than just in scriptive use.
In this first of paired chapters bearing down on the evolutionary history and philosophy of literary language, Victorian narratives differently concerned with the term “medium” – George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – undergo an intensive reading that opens directly onto Giorgio Agamben’s investigations into the always mysterious ontological conjuncture of idea and its sayability, object and its name, in human discourse – and since then onto conceptual poet John Cayley’s theory of “grammalepsy.” Literary examples of prose under duress, from Herman Melville to D. H. Lawrence, return reading to a more close-grained application of Agamben’s poetics (rather than ontology), where the “give” – and take back – of a medium’s oscillatory potential can only be played out before us, tacitly at least, in a foundational contrast to the logic (following Agamben) of the non-extensive point in calculus, the signifying unit that has, unlike syllabic language, no subsidiary elements.
Beginning with the digitally printed formats of experimental fiction, emphasis turns to the inner grain of literary reading, as foregrounded by the irregular digital Font by conceptual text artist Fiona Banner. Such a graphic experiment is brought into comparison with the ridged texture of our ordinary literary response to the contours of subvocally deciphered script. Parallels emerge with the ironic calligraphy and effacing inkwork of contemporary Chinese artists, in a dissident vein, as well as with the work of American new media poet and theorist John Cayley, whose installation practice takes him beyond the limits of aesthetic literacy to phonorobotics and “aurature” (vs. literature). Discussion moves then to a satiric text by Bennett Sims about an academic anti-hero who furiously over-reads the lip movements of non-speaking parts in a Hitchcock film, thereby travestying the silent signifiers – the “visemes” in their operation as phonemes – of an actual textual page.
This chapter revolves around a retrospective tour of recent book arts expositions where the material vehicle – the physical platform – of codex objects gets appropriated, reworked, simulated, or digitally remade in various combinations of analytic and figurative rigor in the bibliobjet: first the “Odd Volumes” curation at Yale in 2014–15, then “The Internal Machine” show at the Center for Books Arts in Manhattan in 2017. Exhibits range from a pre-Kindle irony of electronically activated video “reading,” through books as sounding boards for acoustic synthesizers, to a sonnet anthology accessed only by an embedded microphone. In such exaggerated “platformatics,” repeatedly the interplay between sound and text is displaced from the normal subvocal enunciation of written script – as is more recently the case in a “volume” of spectrogram rather than script lines, transferred from digital audio, that goes out of its way to correlate the prehistory of binary computing with its vestigial codex form.
Overview is inseparable from its retrospective dimension in any look back on the evolution of the codex under shifting technical conditions, from moveable type to pixel backlight. A “cross-sectional” approach to the book/text/medium triad involves chapters arranged here in three respective pairs. First (Part I): the plastic art of the codex, divided between the graphics of easel treatment and conceptual book sculpture. Next (Part II): in close comparison with such material form, an intensive reading of phonemic wording – in its mediating linguistic texture – thrown into relief by visual rather than verbal “signage” in narrative cinema as an alternative time-based medium. Finally (Part III): the ontology of human speech pursued, over against its media ideology, by contemporary theorists Giorgio Agamben and Friedrich Kittler. The introduction also looks back on the “speakwrite” in George Orwell’s 1984 as a mode of dictation contrasted with the transgressive sensuality of handwriting on outmoded paper pages early in the novel.
Mine in closure, these parting words, looking back on many a word parted and regrouped in textual passages behind us: words annexed or merely wrenched wide by the next in line, all as allowed – as if aloud – in that medium of reading known as language. Given the “sustained conjunction of book studies, textual studies, and media studies” promised at the start, what has actually been sustained in this alignment (as initially rephrased) of “book history, verbal analysis, and media theory”? Sustained – and amplified. How and where have the tactilities of the codex under the estimate of Conceptual art, on the one hand, and the abstractions of language philosophy as media theory, on the other, converged to energize a more tangible sense of the linguistic text?
Book, Text, Medium: Cross Sectional Reading for a Digital Age utilizes codex history, close reading, and language philosophy to assess the transformative arc between medieval books and today's e-books. It examines what happens to the reading experience in the twenty-first century when the original concept of a book is still held in the mind of a reader, if no longer in the reader's hand. Leading critic Garrett Stewart explores the play of mediation more generally, as the concept of book moves from a manufactured object to simply the language it puts into circulation. Framed by digital poetics, phonorobotics, and the rising popularity of audiobooks, this study sheds new light on both the history of reading and the negation of legible print in conceptual book art.
Oriented by theoretical work form C. S. Peirce and Walter Ong through conceptual poet John Cayley, from John Stuart Mill on poetry as ‘overheard’ to Steven Connor on the ‘white voice’ of silent enunciation – as well as, in contrast, by book sculpture in the conceptual mode of the bibliobjet, closed to all reading – this essay lends intensive granular audition to passages from Dickens through Virginia Woolf to Toni Morrison. Its effort is to register, and further to generalise, the phonemic dimension of what, loosely but famously called ‘secret prose’ in Dickens by Graham Greene, I will be identifying (after Ong’s ‘secondary orality’) as the ‘secondary vocality’ of the reading event in cases of uniquely impacted audiovisual overlap identified as ‘graphonic’ wording.